There are many micronutrients that are essential for the correct functioning of the body's metabolism, such as essential vitamins and minerals. Regularly eating nutrient-rich foods will increase the likelihood of maximizing micronutrient intake, which in turn helps avoid any deficiencies. Sometimes a deficiency can still occur, such as when the athlete is on a particularly restrictive diet or undertaking particularly intense exercise, and in this case, they may be required to supplement their diet.
A study of elite Australian athletes from a range of sports (Martin et al. 2019) found that the most frequently used supplements were sports drinks (70%), caffeine (48%), protein powder (42%), and sports bars (42%). The athletes reported that the reasons they took these supplements were for recovery (63%), health maintenance (59%), and improved energy (50%).
There are also supplements that are used to complement or enhance the body's normal metabolism, and some of these are considered to artificially enhance performance and are banned by the sporting authorities. Let's put it out there right from the start, illegal dietary supplements should be stayed well away from for any serious athlete. However, there are plenty of legal dietary supplements that are available that can help you better prepare, perform and recover from exercise. There are many supplements to choose from, some will work while others won't, and the current evidence will not always be clear. Whatever you take, the supplements are not to replace hard work. You will still need to spend time on the training track or in the gym, and eat a well-balanced diet.
Here are some articles on supplementation generally and also on specific athletic supplements. Not all will be suitable for your developmental stage or your sport, you need to read up and make the decision about what is right for you. I hope this information points you in the right direction.
Articles About Supplementation
- Building Muscle: Do You Need Supplements? — some important tips that will help you achieve your muscle mass gain goals in the most sensible way.
- List of Supplements for Weight Gain — a list of different supplement types, with a brief outline of what each of them is about.
- Pre-Workouts — can make you more active and last longer during your workout routines.
- Using Supplements To Build Muscle Mass — supplements to increase strength and decrease recovery time.
- Supplements and the Athlete's Immune System — some supplements are thought to prevent exercise-induced immune suppression and provide protection from infection.
- Vitamin Supplementation — the good and the bad.
Specific Supplement Reviews
- Amino Acid Supplements — are they necessary?
- Antioxidants — all about antioxidant supplementation and performance.
- Beta-Alanine Supplementation — helps with muscle buffering.
- Coffee, Caffeine & Fitness — a discussion on the benefits of caffeine on sports performance.
- Collagen — collagen supplementation has many uses, including some benefits for athletes such as reducing joint pain and enhancing exercise recovery. There is also a summary and practical tips for supplementing with collagen.
- Bovine Colostrum — plant flavonoids that have antioxidant properties as well as being anti-inflammatory
- Creatine — all you need to know about supplementing with creatine. See also about Creatine Supplementation for Teenagers.
- Hepcidin — about hepcidin supplementation and the management of an athlete’s iron status.
- Leucine and Muscle Protein Synthesis — leucine is an important amino acid that can be used as a nutritional supplement for athletes.
- N-Acetyl Carnitine — plays several important roles in the human body, particularly in the oxidation of fatty acids in the mitochondria.
- Nitrates — help improve exercise tolerance with Sodium Nitrate.
- Polyphenols — plant flavonoids that have antioxidant properties as well as being anti-inflammatory.
- Sodium Bicarbonate Loading — buffering the acid produced during exercise.
- Vitamin C and its role in athlete immunity.
- Vitamin D and its role in sports performance.
- Vitamin E and its role in athlete immunity.
- Iron — iron stores are essential for carrying oxygen around the blood and delivering it to the muscles. Athletes require more iron due to muscles needing greater oxygenation while working. Plus there is blood cell damage through pressure on the feet while running. Females are more at risk of low iron levels due to blood losses. The best way to increase iron levels is by increasing red meat intake, other good sources are eggs, green leafy vegetables, and fortified breakfast cereals. You can enhance absorption by including vitamin C with meals, in the form of juice or whole fruit, and avoid drinking tea and coffee with meals as this will reduce absorption.
- Calcium — another nutrient that is important for athletes and is often poorly consumed. Dietary calcium is vital for strengthening bones. Dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese are the best sources of calcium. Low-fat products are higher in calcium than full-fat products, and the milk proteins present also enhance absorption. Weight-bearing exercise is also a factor for strong bones, and the more exercise you do the stronger the bones can become. This is site specific, so running will strengthen the legs, ankles and feet, while upper body weights will help shoulders, arms and wrists.
- Zinc — an essential nutrient needed for enzyme activity and the immune system
List of Some Other Nutritional Supplements
We don't specifically endorse the use of these supplements, we have listed these as they may be used by some athletes. Please investigate further if you think these may be useful.
- Bee Pollen
- Beetroot Juice
- Beta Alanine and Carnosine
- Beta-Hydroxy Beta-Methylbutyrate
- Bioflavonoids — a group of antioxidants found in red wine, grape juice, berries and dark chocolate. They are found to have beneficial health effects and to be cancer preventative. So including a small amount of these regularly in the diet (though in limited amounts for the chocolate and wine) will be advantageous to your health.
- Cherry Juice
- Coenzyme Q10
- Fish Oil and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Green Tea
- Ketone Salts
- Lactate Salts and Polylactate
- Medium-Chain Triacylglycerol
- Pangamic Acid
- Phosphorus and Phosphate Salts
- Pyruvate and Dihydroxyacetone
- Sodium Citrate
- Wheat Germ Oil
- Martin C. Waller, Deborah A. Kerr, Martyn J. Binnie, Emily Eaton, Clare Wood, Terreen Stenvers, Daniel F. Gucciardi, Carmel Goodman and Kagan J. Ducker. Supplement Use and Behaviors of Athletes Affiliated With an Australian State-Based Sports Institute. IJSNEM, 2019, Sep 1;29(5):518-525
- Nutrients and Athletes
- Protein supplements the easy and cheap way - Protein Shakes to make at home.
- Go Shopping in the Supplement Store
- About Protein for Athletes
- Olympic Games Drug Scandals
- Doping in Sports